Buffalo's Jordan Zelenak (right) skates past two St. Francis defenders during third-period action in last Saturday's 3-2 Bison home win. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)
Hot starts and dramatic finishes led to three Bison boys' hockey victories this past week at Buffalo Civic Center.
Devin Huebner's goal with 33 seconds left in regulation propelled the Bison to a 2-1 home win last Thursday over Chanhassen. Two days later, Joe McNamara registered a goal and two assists, lifting Buffalo to a 3-2 home win last Saturday over St. Francis. In a rare Monday night matchup, Tyler Braccini registered two goals and two assists in a 6-0 home shutout over Chisago Lakes.
McNamara's three-point effort came in the game's first five minutes against the Fighting Saints. He opened the scoring with a goal 54 seconds into the contest. He later assisted on Ryan Nelson's goal at 1:12 and Tyler Braccini's goal at 4:51.
The 3-0 lead proved to be both a good and bad omen. While Braccini's goal proved to be the eventual game-winner. It also proved to be the Bison's final goal in the remaining 46 minutes of play.
"Scoring three quick ones was the worst thing for us," said Buffalo Head Coach Aaron Johnson. "The kids thought it would be easy the rest of the night. They stopped moving their feet and stopped doing the things that got them success, early. They tried to get back to that level, but they never did the rest of the game."
The letdown started when St. Francis leading scorer Reese Kaehler capitalized on a Bison turnover in their own end, resulting in breakaway and Kaehler's 24th goal of the season.
The 3-1 score stood through both the first intermission and the second.
St. Francis closed the deficit to 3-2 with a power-play tally in the opening minute of period three by Myles Westbrook.
The final 16 minutes of period three were spent trying to protect a one-goal lead, particularly the speed and skill of Kaehler, who leads the Fighting Saints with 53 points.
"Anytime he's on the ice, he's a tough matchup," Johnson said. "I wish we had more guys that played like that. He just competes. He plays hard, and he's a really good high school hockey player who is a great guy to watch for our young kids. He doesn't have a lot around him, but single-handedly, he can carry a team."
"We started off pretty good, and got some early ones," said Bison defenseman Ben Lindvall. "Then it was like we started playing down to them."
Lindvall and Tyler Marr were the only two players on this year's roster honored that evening for senior night.
Neither player figured that game on the scoresheet, but both have been leaders on a team that is still finding an identity.
"I've never played with such a young group of guys before," Lindvall said. "They have always been a year older or two. It's been different, but fun."
Despite the Bison finishing with a 30-14 shots advantage, it appeared after Kaehler's first-period goal that Buffalo was playing on its heels.
Johnson credited his core group of blueliners, which includes Lindvall, McNamara, Cal James, and Joe Carothers for limiting the shots against.
"I think defensively, we were up in their face and our defensemen had pretty good gaps," Johnson said. "We were out pretty quickly on things and limited their number of chances."
Buffalo's defense was particularly solid in a 2-1 home win two days prior against Chanhassen.
Huebner, who missed the St. Francis game with three other teammates due to a church retreat, opened the scoring with a goal in the final minute of period one.
Tyler Davidson tied the score 1-1 for Chanhassen late in period two, but Huebner tallied the game winner with 33 seconds left when Jake Braccini assisted on the game winner.
Braccini froze the Storm defender on 2-on-1 break with Huebner. Once the defenseman committed, Braccini fed a pass backdoor to Huebner who tapped in a one-timer past Storm goalie Cade Corbin.
Huebner's second goal of the game and fourth of the season came on Buffalo's 38th shot of the game. The Bison outshot the Storm 38-19.
"We played really well and outplayed Chanhassen most the game," Johnson said. "The kids played hard and smart and sort of the level we're trying to get to on a consistent basis. Their goalie played well, and kept them in the game."
Lindvall picked up the secondary assist on the game-winning goal.
"We haven't beat them in a few years, so that was really exciting to finally get them," Lindvall said.
Lindvall and the Bison extended their winning streak to three straight with Monday's 6-0 shutout of Chisago Lakes.
For the second straight game, McNamara gave the Bison an early 1-0 lead at 3:46 of the opening period. Both Braccinis assisted on McNamara's fourth goal of the season.
The first period ended with Cal James and Treyton Welch also scoring goals. McNamara's goal came on the power play. James' was even strength and Welch's was shorthanded.
It was the second straight game Buffalo led 3-0 after 17 minutes, but unlike the previous win, Buffalo's strong play continued throughout.
Buffalo added three more goals in period two. Tyler Braccini finished the night with two goals and two assists. Jake added a goal and an assist.
Nathan Mueller recorded 21 saves for his fifth shutout of the season.
Buffalo (12-10 overall, 7-2 conference) next plays at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10 at St. Michael-Albertville.
"Coming in with a group of young guys, it's definitely good to see that we're above .500 right now," Lindvall said. "We have some great sophomores and a great goalie. It would be nice to finish strong and get a few more wins. We'll see what we can do."
Buffalo 2, Chanhassen 1
(Thursday, Feb. 1 at Buffalo)
Storm0 1 0 - 1
Bison1 0 1 - 2
First period: B -- Devin Huebner (Ryan Nelson, Joe Carothers) 16:14.
Second period: C -- Tyler Davidson (unassisted) 13:14.
Third period: B -- Huebner 2 (Jake Braccini, Ben Lindvall) 16:27.
Goalies: C – Cade Corbin (loss) 38 shots, 36 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (win) 19 shots, 18 saves. Shots: C – 5-8-6 – 19; B – 9-19-10 – 38. Power Plays: C – 0-3; B – 0-3.
Buffalo 3, St. Francis 2
(Saturday, Feb. 3 at Buffalo)
Fighting Saints1 0 1 - 2
Bison3 0 0 - 3
First period: B -- Joe McNamara (Jordan Zelenak, Cal James) 0:54; B -- Ryan Nelson (McNamara) 1:12; B -- Tyler Braccini (McNamara) 4:51; SF -- Reese Kaehler (unassisted) 10:33.
Second period: No scoring.
Third period: SF -- Myles Westbrook (unassisted) 0:42, PP.
Goalies: SF – Nolan Garaghty (loss) 3 shots, 0 saves; Caleb Young 27 shots, 27 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (win) 14 shots, 12 saves. Shots: SF – 6-2-6 – 14; B – 16-6-8 – 30. Power Plays: SF – 1-2; B – 0-3.
Buffalo 6, Chisago Lakes 0
(Monday, Feb. 5 at Buffalo)
Wildcats0 0 0 - 0
Bison3 3 0 - 6
First period: B -- Joe McNamara (Tyler Braccini, Jake Braccini) 3:46, PP; B -- Cal James (unassisted) 5:13; B -- Treyton Welch (Ryan Nelson, Ben Lindvall) 14:51, SH.
Second period: B -- T. Braccini (unassisted) 1:44; B -- T. Braccini (McNamara) 10:38; B -- J. Braccini (T. Braccini, Joe Carothers) 13:53, PP.
Third period: No scoring.
Goalies: CL – Brooks Stangl (loss) 24 shots, 19 saves; Jesse Carlson 10 shots, 9 saves; B – Nathan Mueller (win) 21 shots, 21 saves. Shots: CL – 11-6-4 – 21; B – 13-15-6 – 34. Power Plays: CL – 0-3; B – 2-2.